When Tom Gaglardi and his partners paid a reported $7 million for the Kamloops Blazers in 2007, they promised to turn the team into the kind of franchise people would want to watch.
In supporting the sale, The Daily News editorialized: “Clearly, the Blazers have not enjoyed the heady aroma of success for quite some time. The team itself has performed poorly, the organization has been beset by a series of internal problems, and promotion has been lacklustre. In short, despite the best efforts of the board and the community based administration, the Blazers have lost their mojo.”
Three-plus seasons later, the team languishes at or near the bottom of the standings and Gaglardi’s avowed priority — attendance — continues to suffer. In fact, rather than rebounding by the 600-700 fans Gaglardi had hoped, the numbers have continued dropping.
Everyone wants the team to succeed, but hockey is a tough game, on the ice and off. When a team loses consistently for several years, questions are asked, especially by fans and sports writers.
Daily News sports editor Gregg Drinnan has covered the Blazers for years. He is, without question, one of the most knowledgeable hockey writers covering the Western Hockey League today.
While he’s ready to give the team credit where due, he is also often critical of the Blazer organization and the performance of the team. That’s part of being a hockey writer and it’s part of a team’s growth.
Drinnan’s job is not to market the Blazers, but to report and comment on them. He doesn’t get mean about the players, but nobody can hide the fact the players aren’t winning and that the Blazers’ management must answer for that.
The Blazers’ office doesn’t see it that way. Vice president and general manager Craig Bonner, with the support of Gaglardi, has decided Drinnan will no longer be allowed to talk to team personnel unless he starts writing more favourably about the Blazers.
This is unacceptable to us as a newspaper. It’s also unacceptable to the Western Hockey League, or should be, since it clearly violates league policy.
Unfortunately, the league has so far declined to lift the ban on Drinnan, and so has the team. We’re attempting to work with the team and league to resolve what is, to our knowledge, an unprecedented infringement of transparency and free speech in the reporting and analysing of hockey not only in this league, but across the country.
We don’t believe Craig Bonner and Tom Gaglardi, nor the rest of the team’s partners and managers, are unreasonable people. However, this ban betrays a certain desperation about the fact the team’s mojo remains missing in action. It won’t get the community the kind of team it deserves.
We’re optimistic a solution can be found, but it won’t involve the Blazers deciding what Gregg Drinnan or any other member of our staff can or should write about the Kamloops Blazers. In the meantime, he will continue to cover them, albeit without comment from the team itself.
— Mel Rothenburger, Editor